Aviationtag X 10 Tanker

Aviationtag X 10 Tanker

Largest aerial firefighter in the world now at Aviationtag!

Now that the Boeing 747-400 “Tanker 944” – previously converted into a global super tanker – has been repurposed into a cargo plane, the DC-10 100 from 10 Tanker is the largest firefighting plane in the world. It can drop 45,000 litres of water or fire retardant per flight from special tanks attached to its fuselage. The entire contents can be released within eight seconds, but the cockpit can also control and lengthen the release time variably.

Our N450AX initially left the factory doors for National Airlines in 1975 as N69NA sporting Manufacturer Serial Number (MSN) 46942. From 1980, it flew as “Clipper Star Light” for the legendary Pan Am, before being deployed with its new registration N161AA for American Airlines as of 1983 and later also for Hawaiian Airlines.

Aviationtag X 10Tanker
(c) GeorgeM757 on Flickr

The DC-10 100 was given its final registration N450AX in 1997, when it changed hands to the American charter airline Omni Air International. In 2005, it was finally converted into a firefighting plane, serving as the 910 for 10 Tanker until 2014.

10 Tanker boasts a total of four DC-10s in its fleet: 911, 912, 914 and a “new” 910. They are deployed worldwide to fight fires, first and foremost in rural areas. In 2022 alone, 10Tanker was involved in 726 firefighting missions and by the end of September had already dropped almost 27 million litres of water and fire retardants.

N450AX in action

The tanks are divided internally into three sections that can be filled simultaneously on the ground. Filling takes between eight and twenty minutes – depending on what equipment is available at the airport. To prevent a sudden shift in the centre of gravity, which would be disastrous when flying close above the treetops, internal baffles ensure that the liquid is always evenly distributed during the drop. A DC-10 can cut a 1.6 km line of retardant into a forest fire.

The four DC-10s deployed by 10 Tanker are between 33 and 47 years old and still fly with a traditional three-man cockpit. Alongside the two pilots and the flight engineer, each plane is also accompanied by a team of 7 technicians, who also carry numerous spare parts with them. In their “previous lives”, the DC-10s all operated as airliners. The last stint for the entire quartet before switching to the water bomber business was at US airline Omni Air, which inter alia the US Air Force contracts for troop transports. At the time, Omni Air was the second last airline in the world to remove the DC-10 from passenger flights. The four current firefighting planes were then put in storage at various different airports for several years before 10 Tanker took ownership of them and repurposed them.

In 2006, 10 Tanker received approval to operate the widebody trijet from the US Forest Service. The plane swiftly allayed concerns that the DC-10 was nowhere near agile enough for firefighting, impressively proving critics wrong in the years that followed. In 2014, 10 Tanker’s first DC-10 – our N450AX – bowed out making way for its successor.

N450AX after Aviationtag made the cuts
After the cuts

This year we had the one-time opportunity to get our hands on material from this one-of-a-kind water bomber and to upcycle it into our current Aviationtag edition.


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